Kiwi Pollen MD Jill Hamlyn says she was blamed for Psa outbreak by industry

Aug. 17 (BusinessDesk) - A kiwifruit pollen importer says she can't recall testing done on pollen as the Psa virus outbreak was discovered, and her business has come under pressure as she has been blamed for the damage caused.

Jill Hamlyn is managing director of Kiwi Pollen New Zealand, a Te Puke-based pollen company, and along with her husband Graeme Crashaw, owns Kairanga Orchard in Te Puke, the second orchard where Psa was discovered in 2010. The bacteria infected 80 percent of kiwifruit orchards nationwide and is estimated to have cost the industry up to $930 million in lost exports.

A group of 212 growers, led by Strathboss Kiwifruit and Seeka, is claiming that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) - which was later merged into the Ministry for Primary Industries in 2012 - was negligent under the Biosecurity Act, which made it responsible for controlling the importation of "risk goods".

The grower group says Kiwi Pollen imported kiwifruit anthers from China - the pollen-bearing part of a male flower's stamen - which were the source of the Psa outbreak. The government's lawyers aren't set to give their side until mid-September after the kiwifruit growers have concluded. However, in the amended statement of defence published online by MPI, its lawyer Jack Hodder QC argues that the ministry acted appropriately, and it's inconclusive exactly how Psa entered New Zealand.

A list of the pollen stored in Kiwi Pollen's freezer was written in the log book. Hamlyn said she didn't recall telling Kiwi Pollen's pollen manager, Amanda Lyons, to test Chinese pollen stored in the freezer after the first evidence of the Psa outbreak was discovered in November 2010.

"Maybe I was getting her to do - I don't know, an inventory, I don't know what I was getting her to do," Hamlyn said. "I might have asked Amanda to put them in groups, but I have no idea why, and I might have just said can you find all the different sorts of pollen or something. I don't recall ever seeing that entry before, I might never have followed up with her - things were moving very fast and mostly I was concerned with the media and MAF and customers ringing to cancel orders."

Hamlyn said the business had never done germination tests comparing different pollen, but had tested different machines' efficacy at spraying pollen on to plants. She also said it was extremely unlikely that organic waste from the Chinese anther shipment would have been dumped on the land, as the business had bins for waste and the landlord wouldn't have appreciated them tipping waste all over his property.

Under cross examination from MPI's Hodder, Hamlyn said that the business was consistently profitable, posted revenue of about $2.6 million in the year before Psa, and was turning over about 1,000 kilograms of pollen. She had anticipated growth in the business because of Zespri, as pollen use is associated with high-intensity production, and Zespri had encouraged growers to produce better quality fruit using pollen.

"We were a beneficiary of the great Zespri marketing model," Hamlyn said. "[Overseas was] a slower uptake, but as Zespri lifts the bar and others see the good returns they gradually [follow]."

After the Psa outbreak was discovered in 2010, Hamlyn said she and her husband had been blamed in the community for the outbreak, and there had been suggestions Kiwi Pollen should remove its signs.

"It was a very challenging time, but we managed," she said. "We were, by a large part of the community and the industry, seen as the people who ruined the industry. It was an affront to people to see our sign there, and we should be got rid of."

Hamlyn's cross-examination is continuing.